The 2017 Belmont Stakes is Saturday, and after some pretty exciting races, let us help you bet the final leg of the Triple Crown with these handicapping tips.
*Editor's Update: Since Publishing This Article, Classic Empire Has Been Scratched From The Race, Read Further Here*
There will be no Triple Crown bid in the 149th running of the Belmont Stakes this Saturday following Cloud Computing’s upset Preakness Stakes victory two weeks ago over Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and the field. Nor is either race winner an entry in this year’s final leg with connections opting to forgo the taxing 1½-mile dirt marathon. Nonetheless, don’t shy away from the race. The field is full and looks a strong wagering contest on paper. This will mark the eighth time in the last nine events with 10 starters or more. Below are a few tips with analysis on how to best bet the 2017 Belmont Stakes.Favorites Are Often Overvalued
Triple Crown bids tend to overvalue Belmont favorites throughout the years. Odds-on horses have won 42 percent of the time in the last century, but return a 23 percent loss if betting each in this span. Chalk has been an outright ticket-ripper in the last decade with eight of the last 10 post-time favorites falling flat. Since 1999, in fact, 11 winners have cashed at +1000 odds or higher.
Top-rated online sportsbook Bovada lists two-year-old champion Classic Empire at +200 odds to cross the wire first on Saturday. The post-position draw is Wednesday. All signs point to the Mark Casse-trained colt maintaining his odds-on status come post time with the nearest contender Epicharis at +475 in early futures wagering. Here’s a look at the updated odds from Bovada:
|Classic Empire||Mark Casse||Julien Leparoux||+200|
|Epicharis||Kiyoshi Hagiwara||Christophe Lemaire||+475|
|Lookin at Lee||Steve Asmussen||Corey Lanerie||+500|
|Tapwrit||Todd Pletcher||Jose Ortiz||+650|
|Senior Investment||Kenny McPeek||Channing Hill||+750|
|Irish War Cry||H. Graham Motion||Rajiv Maragh||+900|
|Conquest Mo Money||Miguel Hernandez||Jorge Carreno||+1000|
|Twisted Tom||Chad Brown||Feargal Lynch||+1200|
|Gormley||John Shirreffs||Victor Espinoza||+1400|
|Irap||Doug O'Neill||Mario Gutierrez||+1400|
|Patch||Todd Pletcher||Tyler Gaffalione||+1800|
|J Boys Echo||Dale L. Romans||Luis Saez||+2000|
|Multiplier||Brendan Walsh||Joel Rosario||+2500|
|Meantime||Brian Lynch||Jose Ortiz||+2500|
Distance and Stamina
One must consider modern thoroughbred training methods when capping the Belmont Stakes. Throw out the idea that a horse needs to be well rested to win the event. Bettors should look for contenders in tip-top shape, ready to stretch it out for the log haul. The 1-½ mile distance is difficult for any horse to win—yet alone, a young, developing three-year-old carrying 126 pounds. It’s the longest dirt race most of these contenders will run in their career. Like humans, horses need to be conditioned to run long distances, but training and racing methods over the last few decades have traced backwards in regards to featuring stamina. Let’s use this information to our advantage.
Beginning in the early 1980s, many influential trainers with quarter-horse backgrounds, like the legendary D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert, advocated speed with shorter and lighter workout regimens to prep for and win races. Their success helped lead to smaller amounts of exercise per week industry wide, as the number of breezes dropped from two or more a week to typically one. Racing frequency also decreased to an average of every three weeks, as opposed to 10-14 days in-between prior. Overall, American trainers tend to shy away from training and racing for long distances, and place a greater emphasis on speed and recovery. In the 1930s or 1940s, for example, it was not uncommon to see a horse breeze six or seven times between the Preakness and the Belmont.
With this in mind, in the last four decades, every winner of the Belmont raced within 36 days, or five weeks of the event. Two horses fail to meet this threshold this year: the Japanese-trained Epicharis and Chad Brown entry Twisted Tom. Epicharis last finished runner-up in the UAE Derby (G2)on March 25, while Twisted Tom topped the field in the ungraded Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel Park on April 22.
As far as conditioning goes, look for entries with at least two workouts if coming out of the Preakness or similar, and three to four if entering via the Derby. Both angles offer plus-EV historically, as opposed to too little exercise.Running Style Is Paramount to Stretching Out
Too much or too little early speed is detrimental to crossing the wire first in the Belmont. The race favors contenders that run mid-pack, or at a stalking spot a couple of positions off the leaders through the first half mile. These running styles allow them to expend their energy evenly over the course of the long race, while remaining within striking distance of the leaders down the final stretch.
William Quirin’s speed points (0-8), found on Brisnet Past Performance sheets, are a fabulous tool to determine a horse’s running pace and style. The higher the number, the more early speed. Stay away from these in the Belmont. Since 2000, horses with 6 speed points or more are just 1 for 26 in the race. The lone winner: Triple Crown champion American Pharoah. The Brain Lynch-trained Meantime is the rabbit of this year’s field with 8 speed points, within a half length at the second call in each of his four career starts. Wood Memorial winner Irish War Cry (6) and Twisted Tom (6) are the only other two at 6 points or more, though each like to settle in the advantageous stalking position.
Deep closers tend to come up short in the race as well, unable to find that extra gear late to pass all tiring horses at the wire. In at least the last two decades, only two have come from 10 lengths behind or more to win: Jazil in 2006 and Creator last year. J Boys Echo (1), Lookin At Lee (0), Multiplier (1), Senior Investment (0), and Tapwrit (0) all find themselves in danger of dropping too far back to contend. The sweet spot for the Belmont are horses in the 2-to-5 range. This includes the favorite Classic Empire (4), Gormley (3), Hollywood Handsome (2), and Patch (3).
The best value in this race is to single out a longer-priced winner. Classic Empire has been a fixture in every one of my bets in the first two legs, but not this time around. Outside of small bobble at the start, there is little evidence justifying Cloud Computing passing the two-year-old champion down the stretch in the Preakness. The colt looks gassed and in need of a break.
Irish War Cry ticks many of the right boxes, including the lucrative Derby-to-Belmont angle that has produced half the race winners since 2000. He sits just outside the Quirin speed angle mentioned above, and will have to show a tad more versatility to challenge late.
Tapwrit may be sitting on his biggest race. He came home a gritty sixth in the Derby, despite being squeezed at the start by the Irish Wary Cry-Classic Empire collision. Trainer Todd Pletcher has worked the high-priced colt three times at Belmont since, and his sire Tapit fathered two of the last three race winners: Tonalist (2014) and Creator (2016). Tapwrit has enough speed early to stay close, but will need a good break to stay in contention unlike his uninteresting start in the Bluegrass Stakes (G1) where he plodded home to a fifth-place finish.Join the conversation with other Horse Racing bettors